I blame Microsoft

All right, it’s only sort of Microsoft­’s fault. But right now you real­ly ought to be read­ing a great arti­cle about how the Portage Coun­ty, Indi­ana Sher­if­f’s Office is a dis­grace to the law enforce­ment pro­fes­sion, and how the Dis­trict Attor­ney for that same coun­ty ought to be fired with­out delay. The arti­cle was researched and foot­not­ed. I had time­lines and even a link to con­firm that 3 April 2015 was a state hol­i­day in Indi­ana.1

It was lit­er­al­ly all gone in a sin­gle key­stroke. There was no back­up, no undo, no cache: no way of retriev­ing the time and ener­gy spent in the now-vain pur­suit of pro­vid­ing the slice of bril­liant edi­to­r­i­al jour­nal­ism Mono­chro­mat­ic Out­look read­ers have come not to expect.

I take respon­si­bil­i­ty for my part in this, of course. Using a brows­er win­dow to edit any­thing more than about a dozen words is a rook­ie move. (Or is it? Google wants us to do pret­ty much every­thing in a brows­er these days. On the oth­er hand, Google’s web-based appli­ca­tions do a good job of pro­vid­ing auto­mat­ic back­up, a fea­ture of the Mono­chro­mat­ic con­tent-cre­ation tools that I dis­abled dur­ing last year’s attempts to make the site’s pages load in under five min­utes.) Fur­ther­more I was not unaware of the pecu­liar user-inter­face choice made by the nice folks at Mozil­la, to which I give cred­it for my loss of data. It’s an easy-to-patch bug, but a fix I had not both­ered to apply. I even have a brows­er exten­sion for Fire­fox which makes it con­ve­nient for me to use an exter­nal text edi­tor2 when writ­ing any­thing in a textarea. Even if I had not, I’ve nev­er unin­stalled Quick­Cur­sor,3 a util­i­ty that gives me that same capa­bil­i­ty any­where in the sys­tem. Even with­out Quick­Cur­sor, there is an Alfred Work­flow which does the same thing in a few more key­strokes. And even with­out any of those options open­ing a text edi­tor to write, then sub­se­quent­ly past­ing the text in to the brows­er is real­ly quite easy.

What was it I did? Well, I hit the backspace key. In Fire­fox (except under Lin­ux) backspace is a back but­ton, which took me to the page I’d been on before, los­ing the con­tents of my form.4

I’m cer­tain that there have been worse user-expe­ri­ence deci­sions made in the his­to­ry of soft­ware devel­op­ment. The fact that I can’t think of any right now only indi­cates that this is the one that is present­ly upset­ting to me.

So why do I blame Microsoft for Fire­fox’s bad design deci­sion? Because it was done in Fire­fox to make it con­sis­tent with Inter­net Explor­er. And if I’m hon­est, because «I blame Microsoft» is wry­ly if not iron­i­cal­ly fun­ny. If I were to title this piece to point my fin­ger at the Mozil­la Foun­da­tion it would inevitably give rise to a string of obscen­i­ties, which I gen­er­al­ly pre­fer to leave in the text of an arti­cle rather than its title.

Besides, please don’t make me quote fic­tion­al char­ac­ters from pop­u­lar movies.5 It’s one thing for Microsoft to have made some lousy deci­sions back in the 1990s when graph­i­cal user inter­faces were option­al and the Web was some new­fan­gled thingy some peo­ple had heard of. I’m not even sure that I can blame Microsoft for stick­ing with that choice in Inter­net Explor­er. In 2005, after «user expe­ri­ence» had become its own field dis­tinct from «user inter­face» to slav­ish­ly imi­tate one of Microsoft­’s obvi­ous­ly bad deci­sions? It’s a bit like watch­ing a drunk fall flat on his face, then down­ing a bot­tle of gin before rac­ing the Isle of Man TT.

My les­son is learned, and the behav­ior is changed in Fire­fox on my machine, even though it meant void­ing my war­ran­ty. It’s a sad day when I have to waive my right to a refund on free soft­ware. This also rein­forces my deci­sion not to have Chrome installed any­where except on a vir­tu­al machine. Opera, you’re hang­ing by a thread.

  1. It was Good Fri­day. The courts were closed
  2. I love Byword for OS X and am using it to write these words. 
  3. Whoa! Did I real­ly pay $5 for that? It would­n’t be quite so shock­ing if I actu­al­ly ever used it. And it would have been mon­ey very well-spent if I actu­al­ly had used it while writ­ing the arti­cle about the Del­Rea Good inci­dent. 
  4. I’d like to address the ques­tion raised by user SNag in a com­ment on User Expe­ri­ence Stack Exchange which seemed to express dis­be­lief that it is pos­si­ble some­one might make this very error. If the user is typ­ing, clear­ly the textarea has the focus. The back­space key can’t pos­si­bly cause prob­lems because peo­ple don’t type when no form fields have focus. Well, I often include links in things that I write — in fact, I do so much more often if I am writ­ing in a brows­er than if I am writ­ing else­where. Fre­quent­ly there­fore I keep a sec­ond brows­er open and switch between the brows­er I’m writ­ing in (in this case Fire­fox) and the brows­er I’m using for research (in this case Safari.) Here I switched back to Fire­fox, and appar­ent­ly mis-tapped on the form field. So yes, this is a case of user error. How­ev­er, one ought nev­er encour­age user error by putting the ejec­tor seat lever between the cab­in lights and FM radio switch­es
  5. sigh OK, «Who’s the more fool­ish, the fool or the fool who fol­lows him?» 

2 Replies to “I blame Microsoft”

  1. Back­space
    I **LOVE** the Back­space but­ton! I use it all the time when I am brows­ing. Hit­ting Back­space is by far the quick­est and eas­i­est way to back up a page or two, and pret­ty easy to remem­ber. If you have dis­abled Back­space, what do you use to go back a page?

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